Globally, it's estimated that there are at least 200 million girls and women who have undergone some form of FGM. Today is a day for everyone to join the #EndFGM campaign and raise awareness about the dangers of FGM
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises of all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is internationally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
In the UK, FGM is illegal. But many countries still practice the procedure.
FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. This practice violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and for many women and girls, their right to life.
In July 2018, the UN Secretary General produced the report, Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation. This report states that efforts to end these practices should also target the groups of women who are most at risk - in particular those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including refugee and migrant women, women living in rural and remote communities and young girls, so to ensure no one is left behind.
“On this Day of Zero Tolerance, I call for increased, concerted and global action to end female genital mutilation and fully uphold the human rights of all women and girls,” said UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres.
“Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent human rights violation affecting women and girls around the world,” he said.
“With strong political commitment, we are seeing positive change in several countries. However, if current trends persist, these advances will continue to be outplaced by rapid population growth where the practice is concentrated.”
The Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 calls for an end to FGM by 2030 under Goal 5 on Gender Equality. The global elimination of FGM has been called for by a number of inter-governmental organisations, including the African Union, the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The psychological impact of FGM
On the mental and physical impact of FGM on girls and women, Integrative psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member, Eiman Hussein, said:
“It is really important to have some understanding of the issue of FGM. Research conducted in 2015 estimates that there were approximately 137,000 women and girls affected with FGM living in England and Wales in 2011.
“The psychological impact of FGM amongst survivors is various and based on each FGM survivors’ individual experience and circumstances. According to the WHO, “for many girls and women whom have undergone FGM it is a traumatic experience that has been found to have lasting psychological consequences”. I agree with that and have seen how women survivors of FGM can present with a range of different presentations.”
She continued: “Usually the women attending the services at FORWARD (an African-UK based organisation providing support, advice and advocacy services), where I provide short-term psychotherapy support to FGM survivors, have presented with a considerably very high ‘Impact of Events Trauma Scale’, indicating some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. But like other forms of trauma, people respond differently to it, based on other factors.
“Some of the psychological effects that survivors of FGM may experience include:
- Changes in how they feel about themselves: poor self-esteem, worthlessness, feeling incomplete - ‘not a whole woman’, feeling different from others, having a distorted or negative self-image, feelings of shame and poor confidence.
- Changes in how they perceive their families: sense of betrayal, anger, hurt, loss of trust.
- A range of chronic mental health problems such as anxiety and anxiety disorders; depression and symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, easily getting startled and jumpy, nightmares and panic attacks.
- Psychosexual difficulties such as having poor libido, pain during sex, difficulty in intimacy with sex becoming a painful and triggering experience.
“It might be that during a genitourinary examination or during childbirth, that some of the memories might come back. But that is not necessarily so, everyone is different in how they have experienced FGM and how it affects them. Some clients might be really traumatised by it, whilst others might not feel it is an issue. In my work, I have learnt not to make any assumptions.
“I believe it is important to understand that women and girls affected by FGM are also faced with the reality that it was done by their own close family members. This can result in them feeling pained but also keep silent. It is also important to recognise that in addition to the FGM, the women affected might also have other complex issues that they are dealing with such as other forms of gender-based violence (domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse) or if they are refugees, they might be struggling with immigration or basic needs such as housing and income.”
“In addition, as much as it is really important for women and girls to seek support, there might be some real barriers to doing that, such as the stigma of seeking mental health support, lack of trust of healthcare professionals, fears of not being understood or being judged, communication barriers and issues of cultural insensitivity and discrimination. I believe that having an awareness of FGM and some of its impacts is important, in particular as it is so complicated and there is no ‘one size fits all’ for survivors.”
You can join the conversation by using #EndFGM and #Womenmatter on Twitter.
If you are concerned about the wellbeing of someone you know, or if you think you are at risk of FGM, please seek support as soon as possible.
The NSPCC have a helpline dedicated to FGM that is anonymous and open 24/7. You can call them on 0800 028 3550. For more information on FGM support services and what to do if you are at risk, visit Forwarduk.
If you have been affected by FGM and need further support, you may benefit from speaking to a professional. Enter your location below to find a counsellor near you.